My father is a funny guy. I used to think he was a classic left-wing conservative; believing in the power of regulation, against free, uncontrolled capitalism and most of all, always longing for the ‘old days’, when things were better. Like music. He got stuck in the 60’s, introduced me to The Beatles, and believed all modern music, especially the Punk and New Wave music I was listening to, to be noise, devoid of any quality.
I thought he was on old man, clinging to ancient music, music that was almost 20 years old… Look at me now, listening to music that is almost 40 years old, still stuck in 1977 in a way.
I do use Spotify and I download most of my music, the only records I buy these days are the ones I frame and put on display, like Kraftwerk’s Autobahn. Still, I’m a reluctant Spotify user, I’m not using it out of admiration or love, but just because I gradually turned into a musical hoarder; I want it all and I want it now, even though I can’t process or even listen to half of the music that is in my collection.
In my daydreams I go back to the 80’s. There was no digital or online music back then. Hell no! In 1982 the Compact Disc got introduced but I was still buying second-hand records and creating mix tapes for friends and potential girlfriends. My friends were my friends because we liked the same music. We hung out together to maximise the benefits of being in a group. We shared news, audio tapes and the latest records we found in the 2 dollar bin of the local record store. I had a friend of a friend of a friend who owned a copy of New order’s ‘Movement’ and The Gun Club’s ‘Miami’ and put it on tape for us. That tape circulated endlessly in our group, long enough everyone to make his own copy of the copy. We all dressed the same. Our inspiration literally came from what we saw on the streets of our town, on record sleeves or the one or two credible music mags. At night I sometimes listened to the radio. There was no cable yet, I only had access to Dutch radio, and once a week they played my kind of music for an hour.
Crossover, fusion, blending, it all didn’t exist. There were only two categories of music; music I loved and music I hated. I had time nor money to like a band ironically. Spending my precious money on garbage was what it should always be; a waste of limited resources. Most of my money went to buying cassettes anyway. Tapes were the gateway to new music. With tapes I could create my own copy of the records I got from the library or borrowed from my friends. We had a collective music collection; no need to buy a record someone else had already. You could just tape it. Money mattered, I simply couldn’t afford to spend it on music I didn’t know. There was no ‘if you like this you probably also like this’ function. It was all manual, all personal, all based on my network of friends (and friends of friends). Reviews and tips played an important role in our lives. Sometimes I even received letters. Real letters, with handwritten reviews and tips.
There were choices to be made, hard choices, no semi-ironic choices in a world of abundance. I was dependent on my network of friends, they were dependent on me, we possessed a collective memory. It worked. That community was much tighter and more reliable than any online community could ever be. The harder it was to collect my music, the more hours I spent in front of the post office to buy myself concert tickets, the more friends I found, friends who would introduce me to even more music.
On the altar of user convenience we sacrificed the power of sharing and the value of choices in a world of scarcity. I used to hold a record in my hands, listen to it in the shop, come back a couple of times to check it was still there, and finally buy it, not completely sure it was actually the right thing to do. Now I just create a harem of new music with a few mouse clicks.
Do I want to go back to the old days? No way! Does my father have a point after all? Not really, but I love him for all his flaws and inconsistencies, and that is exactly what I’m missing these days.Tweet